This is more than the loss of one of the best coaches in Scottish football. More than the loss of one of the most prominent figures in Rangers history.
Walter Smith was all that and more, of course. But it is also the loss of a statesman. A man whose wisdom and voice, without needing to be lifted for effect and never a vehicle for hyperbole, demanded attention and, more importantly, respect in every corner of the game in this feverish little tribal country and beyond. .
A man of humor. And warmth. And steel, when necessary. An assistant to Jim McLean and Sir Alex Ferguson in their youth and a talent who more than earned his place alongside them and the likes of Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Bill Shankly in the pantheon of Scottish footballers whose characters were so essential. to his legend as his achievements.
Walter Smith’s death leaves a great void as the former head of the Rangers and Scotland who played a key role in the country’s history.
One of the old school. And whose departure leaves a cavernous hole.
The record books testify to what Smith accomplished. A solid, if unspectacular player with Dundee United and Dumbarton, the closest he came to a medal was when he lost to Celtic in the 1974 Scottish Cup final with the Tannadice team.
It was in coaching that he really found his niche. First at United with McLean and Scotland’s under-18 team, which he led to the 1982 European Youth Championship as a teammate with Andy Roxburgh, before being pursued by Graeme Souness to plan a revolution in Ibrox.
That is where we begin to deal with each other. And it’s where any attempt to put some kind of personal reflection on the personality behind the legend should begin.
Smith was warm and friendly to journalists, displaying great humor to earn the respect of many
Let it be known that many other journalists were much friendlier to Smith, much closer. There were several occasions during his first stint as Rangers manager, in particular, when I fell victim to that infamous, silent gaze of his.
And let me tell you, it was all the stories tell you. You would risk looking Medusa in the eye when faced with a choice between her and Walter Smith.
There was a particularly memorable evening in the small press room in Tynecastle’s main grandstand. He was offended by a question asked about Peter van Vossen, of all people. Silence fell. Such was the intensity of the frost that I swear the earlobes and fingertips of many of those present began to blacken.
It was a blessing that Hearts was so helpful in providing a strong drink at the time to thaw the blood and stabilize the heart rate after Smith finally decided that I was really not worth it.
However, he was also a kind and helpful man. In my first job as a journalist in the late 1980s, at 16, I used to spend every Tuesday in the main lobby of Ibrox Stadium, sitting waiting to peruse a locker room full of suitable characters like Ally McCoist, Ian Durrant and Derek. . Ferguson for an interview.
But he was also a man of steel when necessary and was infamous for his silent gaze.
Smith, still Souness number two, would come out of the wood-paneled door on the left upon my arrival to ask who was required. Only later in life did it become apparent how ridiculous it was that Walter Smith was running around demanding that international players come out and talk to this little nyaff who had just come out of school in the main hall.
But he did. And the likes of McCoist and Durrant and Ferguson took a bit of grazing.
That job also took me across Europe with Smith and his team after he took over after Souness defected to Liverpool. To Elland Road and that incredible Battle of Britain. To Marseille and a seat directly behind Durrant when he launched that curved right foot exocet missile at the bottom corner of Fabien Barthez’s net.
Smith’s reputation as a coach of the highest caliber was attested during his second stint in charge at Ibrox, when he somehow took over a Rangers team that was already in the process of being reduced to national titles and the World Cup final. UEFA in 2008.
Smith worked wonders on Ibrox even though the team was scaled down to create a large trophy collection in two separate spells.
Smith never made excuses and took things directly, with an honesty that crossed barriers.
However, it is also easy to forget how close he came to reaching the final of the first Champions League. His loss to Roma as Tannadice’s assistant in the European Cup semi-final was mired in bribery allegations. Who knew what would eventually come out regarding Marseille and its controversial owner Bernard Tapie over time as well?
However, Smith made no excuses. He faced things head-on. A Carmyle boy, an apprentice electrician, represented much of what was, and is, good in Scottish working-class culture.
Difficult, but fair. And have an honesty that crosses barriers.
Carrying the coffin of Tommy Burns along with McCoist at the funeral of Celtic’s favorite son in May 2008, after onboarding him for an impressive stint as head of Scotland, was visual proof of that.
Carrying the coffin of former Celtic player and coach Tommy Burns was evidence of that trait.
However, there was an afternoon inside the walls of Murray Park three years later where he showed a lot of what he was doing. In which its very presence, its weight and the electricity it generated, floated in the air.
The rangers were being investigated, not for the first time, for sectarian chants by their supporters. This time, in a match against PSV Eindhoven. Smith was always good at turning off the tapes and speaking at length on sensitive topics off the record. Filling in the blanks for reporters when you didn’t want your fingerprints on the evidence.
Not this particular afternoon. Smith dropped the astonishing admission that he used to sing all those same songs himself. With some vigor. He knew all the club traditions, but he had to make it clear that some of them could no longer be carried over to the modern era.
The coach never needed to raise his voice to command respect and spoke in a measured tone
He warned of “drastic consequences” if such behavior continued. He implored the fans to stop. He spoke in a calm and measured tone for some time, but his words shook the room like an earthquake.
This was the direction of a wartime leader rather than the usual football coach platitudes, but Smith had the natural wit and intelligence to find the right tone, choose the right words. To leave a mark and make known what I expected.
Despite spending many, many hours revealing little in media briefings, you instinctively knew when you walked into the room and had something specific to say.
Ten titles in two spells, including the completion of Nine-In-A-Row in 1997, five Scottish Cups and six League Cups explain the endless love that will exist within the Rangers for Smith and in the hearts of all those players. legendaries who served under him. Unlike Ferguson or McLean, perhaps, there are few former defendants who have more than warm words for their former boss.
He adored the Rangers and never shied away from them, but he was also a soccer man: tough and loyal.
However, Smith’s love for that club was also unconditional.
He never hid the fact that he was a Rangers man. It was surely part of the reason why he was always considered friendly by a large percentage of rival club supporters, including Celtic.
He was also a soccer man. And a man of a man. Unwavering but generous. So serious in his job or in negotiating the peculiar politics of his trade as a paternalist over a drink or dinner. Right. Loyal. Hard. Without foolishnesses. Well.
These are the traits and qualities you expect from all great men. And Smith was certainly one of those.